U.S. economy deals a harsh blow to Irish dancing
Irish stepdancing is suffering thanks to the economic downturn
Christina Ryan-Kilcoyne doesn’t normally advertise her dance classes. She doesn’t normally have to.
“I’ve never had to advertise before,” says the fair-haired teacher from County Clare, who came to the U.S. in 1988 and set up a dance school in Pennsylvania.
“The kids just used to come. But this year my beginners’ class is down by half.”
Ryan-Kilcoyne hasn’t started yet, but she’s soon going to put out fliers publicizing her school.
Since the 1990s, and especially after "Riverdance" Irish stepdance has grown wildly popular. But it has also become hugely costly, and in this downturn it is suffering.
Enrolment is low at schools across the country this fall as parents who have lost their jobs struggle to pay for lessons. Parents who have money are doing their best to hold onto it, signing their kids up for fewer classes.
This has had an impact on teachers. Ryan-Kilcoyne is married and the school is not her sole source of income, but others are less lucky.
“For people for whom it’s totally their livelihood, it must be a hard place to be,” she says.
Kerry Kelly-Oster is another teacher whose school has taken a hit. She teaches at her Kelly-Oster School of Irish Dance, based in Brewster, New York. It’s a well-established school and her students win awards at feiseanna across the country, but in this economic climate even that success doesn’t help.
“I can definitely see an impact,” Kelly-Oster affirms. “There’s not as many children joining the classes.”
Last year was even worse, Kelly-Oster adds, saying this year numbers are more level. Now, she says, “parents and families are being more stringent with their choices.”
How schools are faring depends on where they’re located -- whether there’s a strong Irish presence in the area, and, of course, how much the downturn has damaged local industry.
Kathy Egloff, a parent director of the Butler-Sheehan School in Syracuse, says there have been few foreclosures there. Everyone worries about money, but student numbers at the school are about the same as before.
“If you don’t get too heavily into feises, it’s not as expensive as other sports,” she says.
Nor has Sean Culkin, director of the Culkin School of Traditional Irish Dance and regional director of the Southern Dance Teachers Association (IDTANA), had any problems. He had 85 beginners this year, and he puts it down to location.
“We’re a suburb of Washington, D.C., Montgomery County. There’s a lot of government money down here. Generally speaking, we’re not getting hit,” he says.
It’s clear enrolment is something teachers are talking about among each other. Kevin Broesler teaches at the Broesler School of Irish dance, which has classes in New York, New Jersey and Maryland.
His schools are doing fine, he says, but he recently had a conversation with a teacher from Detroit. The demise of the automotive industry has had a knock-on effect on dancing, and stepdance in Detroit is going through a very tough time.